A head nurse is generally a registered nurse (with an MSN degree or higher) who is in charge of all or a selected group of nurses that belong to a particular hospital, health care facility, treatment center or medical institute.
Head nurses are responsible for overseeing the performance and effectiveness of all nursing staff under their management (which may be an entire institute, an individual department or a section of a health care facility) and may be in charge of handing out assignments, maintaining medical records, reviewing and signing appropriate nursing procedures and practices, training and educating nurses and developing effective and cohesive nursing teams.
They may also report directly to doctors, health care specialists and upper management as an intermediary between nursing staff and management in order to maximize patient care and organization.
As stated earlier head nurses may be allocated to particular departments such as an emergency room, intensive care unit or neonatal care unit where they may work as the doctor’s first assistant and team leader for other nurses.
This allows individual departments to focus all of their resources on providing effective care to their respective patients.
Communication is a vital asset and tool for head nurses as the decisions they make and the way they communicate specific tasks to their team members can have a very significant impact on patient care and the mental/emotional health of the team.
Because of this head nurses must not only be effective leaders during critical times, but also be able to develop the skills necessary to assist individual nurses on the difficult and often personal situations they deal with on a day-to-day basis from the psychological impact their work may have on them to personal matters at home or in the work place that can affect a nurses good judgment or ability to be effective when in the field.
The head nurses input can be a vital component in crafting an effective nursing team and this also extends to choosing their staff effectively, therefore head nurses who work at the highest level in their field may be in charge of hiring and assigning nursing staff.
By allowing head nurses to hire staff they have a better opportunity to ensure that the right people are put in place to handle important tasks and provide effective patient care.
Finally, head nurses are often in charge of a host of administrative tasks from keeping patient records, to signing off on paperwork and keeping track of employee and legal documents.
This requires excellent organization skills and a take action mentality since it is easy to get overwhelmed by the work if a nurse has trouble with staying organized and responding quickly to tasks that require immediate attention.
If handling large amounts of paperwork, leading an effective medical team, assisting nurses with difficult choices and/or being an intermediary between upper management and nursing staff seems like an overwhelming or undesirable position then these may be signs that being a head nurses may not be the correct path to take.
Health care facilities that are interested in hiring a head nurse often look for registered nurses with effective listening, leadership and delegation skills combined with a high level of education and training that are able to train and craft effective nursing teams.
Emotional competence, alertness and a focus on patient care are also extremely important attributes for those interested in operating as a head nurse.